Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Pale view of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale view of Hills was my first Kazuo Ishiguro book. Compared to the classic novels, this can't be called a novel, more of a novella (in terms of number of pages). But Ishiguro packs the details in very few words.

The main character Etsuko reminisces about her life in post war Nagasaki. Ishiguro never talks directly about the bomb, there are only a couple of references. But these references are enough for Ishiguro to convey that Etsuko suffered during the bombing, probably losing her family, and had to stay with friends in the aftermath. Similarly you are not told directly that Etsuko married a British citizen, but you come to know when an acquaintance greets her "Hello, Mrs. Sherringham". This novel contains more unsaid words than any other novel I have read.

The story looks simple and a tad boring at the superficial level. Etsuko, whose elder daughter Keiko committed suicide in Manchester, reminisces about her life in Nagasaki and the strange woman who was her friend there. Etsuko's daughter Niki, born to her British Husband, comes to stay with her for a few days. While thinking about her days in Nagasaki, Etsuko remembers her friend Sachiko and Sachiko's difficult daugher Mariko. Her friend is in love with an American Frank (again only peripheral details) who has promised to take her to USA but keeps ditching her again and again. All this happens when Etsuko is pregnant with her own daughter.

The book seems to amble along while you get a feeling of something dreadful is waiting for you. It is a funny feeling, since there is nothing happening in the book but the foreboding is there. And when suddenly Ishiguro switches from third person to first person does it hit you. And hits you hard, everything you have read so far takes a new meaning. And you go back to read the passages again. And again. To get a different perspective of the story.

How he achieves this is beyond me to explain. But he does it with ease. Read it if you like your books dense.


Laputa Travel Agency said...

What an intellectual stud you are to be reading and writing such stuff. You deserve to be iNdia's No 1 blogger!

Prince Roy said...

Suggest you give modern Chinese fiction a try. Highly recommend Mo Yan, especially "The Garlic Ballads". Make sure you get the Howard Goldblatt translation.

Chenthil said...

Anon - full marks to you on the creative moniker.

PR - thanks for the tip. I haven't read any Chinese fiction so far. The closest I came to Chinese fiction was Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. Will try to locate the book you suggested.

Krithiga said...

Am right now reading Kazuo Ishiguro - Never let me go, I know I shouldn't really judge it based on the few chapters I read, or possibly I picked up a wrong book of his, but nope, but it doesn't hit me hard.

I shouldn't have read The Kite Runner, everything I read now is not quite as "hard hitting".

Krithiga said...

Oops - "Never let me go"

anantha said...

Chen: Saasanam paatheengala?

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

All these intense people with long names ... Ishiguro, Saramago, Murakami.
Me, I'll settle for a Jilly Cooper. Rather well-filled tights than imagined slights.

Lalita Mukherjea said...

A succinct appraisal.

I have been reading your blog for a while now. May I blogroll you?

Ian said...

Krithiga I wonder if you felt differently once you'd finished. Each of Ishiguro's books (including Never Let Me Go) make a whole - you cannot judge his work until you've read the last sentence on the last page, only then will any of his novels be complete and make sense. They build up as they go along, subtlely, and then when you've finished, hit you like a brick.